The bus to work was never full of serious people. The purple upholstered seats in the back were crowded with hoodlums her own age. Boys with peach fuzz faces smelling of a cologne something like formaldehyde they all wore. A multitude of Starter jackets for teams in cities they'd migrated from. Sneering weasel faces. Frequently there would be one or two commanding, "Smile." She didn't fall for it.
During the hot days she would step outside, a sliver in business clothing that shrunk her immature figure even smaller. With an eye to the parking lot she'd huddle next to the imposing struts of the entryway, concealed in shadow and sunglasses, smoking nervously. The steaming parking lot would stretch out empty, speckled with dirty kids trailing in from nights spent in sweaty trailers they might not live in next week. Beater cars huddled far from the entrances, all the managers whose sad condescension ended when they climbed into a Toyota with a door rusted shut.
In the chirping quiet of the morning, in her bedroom, she sat at the little desk and painted her eyes black, like cigarette burns in a piece of paper. She examined hipbones, ribs, and collarbones for signs of progress, pinching the nothing on her sides. From the donated television box that was her dresser she dug layers of monochromatic clothing, enough to hide the chrysalis of bones not yet ready to bloom. She slipped her key over her head and wrapped up in her shroud, closing the doors quietly behind her.
The pills on the dresser sat unswallowed. The razor blades were lighter burnt and stowed in the bottom left drawer until she was brave enough to try again. Her stomach was empty and it felt good. These were the days before she learned to quietly control herself.
At night the wind of the road froze her ears, walking from one town to the next and home again. She hid a cigarette in her sleeve, out the door as soon as babysitting was over. The first thing she bought was a car and after the car, three pairs of giant sunglasses. But the car was tethered and it felt like she was going farther on foot. She'd feel eyes on the back of her neck and her skin would prickle. She'd cross an intersection and hope for drunk drivers.
"I'm ok," she said. "Just leave me alone, I'll figure it out myself." They didn't believe her, but they didn't have the energy to stop her. She surprised them when she was. Within ten years she had turned right around. Her episodes were her business because her track record was impeccable.
It was when it seemed everything was just about perfect that she got tired of controlling it. "Please throw me a line," she said, "I'm drowning." It was a formality, a kiss on the cheek. Politely they ignored her and relieved, she disappeared into the waves. It was nothing new. It just took her a long time to sink.